David Bremner on Brass Bands

David Bremner (Principal Trombonist of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra) discusses the benefits of playing in a brass band.

David BremnerI recently attended the NZ National Brass Band competitions and couldn’t help but think throughout the weekend how far the relationship between orchestral and brass band players has come. I have had many teachers over the years telling me that their students shouldn’t be playing in a brass band because it is bad for their orchestral playing. Now playing in a brass band might be bad for your liver, but for your orchestral playing? I don’t think so.

As a student I always looked forward to band in the evening as it was a good chance to have a decent honk after often long days of rehearsing works in the school orchestra with long passages of rests. I found that band was a great chance for me to work on three aspects of playing that often needed attention.

Solo playing – Playing the trombone solo out of Phillip Sparke’s Year of the Dragon would obviously be approached differently to playing the solo in Mahler’s 3rd Symphony. Sitting in band was a chance for me to think about that style and how I could manipulate the music to get the most out of the line, which had a positive impact on the way I would look at orchestral solos.

Stamina – This is something we are always working on which was a constant issue for me as a student. Getting through a band practice was a real struggle, so using the band to develop that strength and stamina was really great for my playing. The key to this was making sure that I didn’t pick up bad habits on the way – I was always conscious of not changing the way I played throughout the range regardless of how tired I became.

Changing the sound and style – an often-neglected skill. Players often feel that the sound they make is the only sound they make. Well it shouldn’t be! You should have a range of sounds that you can produce; the sound you need to make to project in a brass band is very different from the one you would use in the orchestra. I have always enjoyed the challenge of adapting to the environment I find myself in, whether I’m playing with a jazz ensemble, a brass band or an orchestra, as a soloist, or in a small group where I need to hide in the texture from time to time. Playing in the band helped me realise that I couldn’t make the same sound all the time, it just didn’t work, so I found a way to adapt and develop my sound. This was the opening of a door in my mind to many other processes in my playing that I constantly think about.

So, is playing in a band bad for your orchestra playing? I absolutely do not think so. Playing in any ensemble creates a change of environment that is always a positive, you just have to find these positives and stay disciplined.

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One response

  1. Thank you for this article David. The benefits of playing in a brass band, particularly for trombonists, far outweigh any perceived negatives.